The national awareness of Athens, Georgia as a vibrant art and music scene in the 80’s was largely accomplished due to a plucky, quirky and loose 1986 documentary film by director Tony Gayton titled “Athens, GA: Inside/Out” and its associated soundtrack on I.R.S. Records, which at the time was R.E.M.’s label.
In many ways, the film happened at the right time: R.E.M.’s Document, their last and biggest album on I.R.S. Records would come out in Fall of 1987 and blow up with “The One I Love.” Fans like me who were hungry for everything related to R.E.M. ran out to pick up the VHS tape of the film and the soundtrack to hear and see the two R.E.M. tracks performed in the Seney-Stovall Chapel: acoustic versions of “Swan Swan H” from Lifes Rich Pageant and a cover of an Everly Brothers classic re-titled “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream.”
A side note: the legend of R.E.M. includes the fact that they lived in an abandoned church and their first concert was in this same church. Until today, I assumed that the performance in the film was in that church, but they really lived in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, which was demolished in 1990 by developers. The steeple still stands today as a landmark to R.E.M.
As someone growing up in a very small midwestern town in the 1980’s, I had very limited access to underground non-Top 40 music. I didn’t even have MTV! So, the soundtrack and filmed performances in “Athens, Ga : Inside/Out” were eye-opening experiences! In many ways this soundtrack defined the music I would follow for many years. As a compilation, the songs and bands are all over the map: soon-to-be radio darlings R.E.M., twitchy frenetic post punk of Pylon (who recently got their much-deserved recognition in a boxset I covered here.), the instrumental workings of Love Tractor (the use of “Fun To Be Happy” as the opening music was brilliant and set the tone for the film), moody guitar rock of “Dreams So Real” (whose major label debut Rough Night in Jericho disappointingly made them sound like The BoDeans and not like the moody and beautiful “Golden”), The B-52’s were included in the film, but not the soundtrack, the hardcore punk of Bar-B-Q Killers, the hyper retro two-piece rockabilly of The Flat Duo Jets (who are obvious influences on The White Stripes). The thoughts of these bands playing bars and stages in Athens was breathtaking, and my friends and I all wanted to make a trip there. (It’s still on my bucket list of places to visit)
Out of all of those bands on the soundtrack, the ones that really stood out for me (and are favorites to this day) were Pylon, Love Tractor and Squalls. Squalls had two songs on the soundtrack, their big hit (such as it was) “Na Nanana” and “Elephant Radio.” Both of these songs were on their debut self-released EP from 1984, and by 1986, when this film came out, they were regarded as one of the bands who deserved to make it to the national spotlight. The Squalls mix of epic harmonies and melodies combined with smart and sometimes progressive rhythms to me makes them a shoo in for a band that could follow in the footsteps of bands like Talking Heads and Adrian Belew.
The Squalls were signed to R.E.M. manager Jefferson Holt‘s label Dog Gone Records, and released two albums there before the band hung it up in 1989.
On August 19th, the band is releasing a compilation of live recordings made over five dates made at the legendary Athens, GA bar The 40-Watt Club between 1983 and 1985 (predating the performances in the film). These performances were recorded by 40-Watt soundman T. Patton Biddle. Titled Live from the 40 Watt, the songs span the EP and the two albums and are a great representation of the band’s body of work. Here is the tracklist, with my notes of performance date and what album the songs come from. I’ve also provided links to the tracks that have been released for streaming.
Bride Of Frankenstein (8/2/1985) from No Time and “Crickets” 7″
The striking thing about this compilation is how much unreleased music is included! I exchanged messages with Bob Hay, the principle songwriter in Squalls whether this release was indicative of the live sets from this pre-Dog Gone era of the band, or whether he was attempting to get these unreleased songs released formally. He said:
It’s kind of both. On “LIVE” I wanted to include every song that was released on vinyl before 1986. (8 songs – the EP and the single.) and also rescue from the sands of time a bunch of songs that were staples of our live shows in those days and a few that we played only a few times but are too good to be forgotten. We were primarily a live dance band and played live for almost three years before we set foot in a studio.
Facebook chat 7/10/22
The idea of a band packing bars playing all original songs seems foreign, if not kind of quaint these days. Bob sent me a scan of the show calendar for The 40-Watt Club from February, 1986: the month that they filmed the performances for Athens, GA: Inside/Out. I commented about the incredible lineup of bands that were playing that month– (not to mention all of the bands who were in the film)– Alex Chilton played a Thursday night show, The Georgia Satellites and the Del Fuegos (who would share a tour with Tom Petty the next year), Giant Sand, and Jason and the Scorchers played a three night stand. Bob replied, “I tell you, it was something during that time.”
In addition to capturing a wildly creative time for Squalls, Live from the 40-Watt also is a reminder that Athens was (and still is) a very special place where bands were drawn to be more free creatively and where audiences were excited to hear new music. The recordings show a band wide-eyed and excited to bring their art to the world.
Live From The 40-Watt will be released on August, 19th, 2020 and will be available on beautiful 2 LP blue vinyl, CD or digital. Click here to order from Strolling Bones records site, or you can order it from Bandcamp.
July 28, 2022 Update : With the recent events surrounding “MoFiGate” I’m updating this article from January 23, 2022 with details recently revealed.
It has come to light that Mobile Fidelity Soundlabs has, in some situations, been making a digital copy of the original masters that they have access to for their “Original Master Recording” releases and their One-Step releases. Mobile Fidelity has issued an apology for this lack of transparency and has started to implement descriptions on their website to improve clarity about the sources used. As it applies to the upcoming Bitches Brew One-Step, it explains some things (it is confirmed a digital copy), but still doesn’t tell us what the source master tape is, so I’m still hoping they’ll make a statement about this. Continue on for the updated version of the original article.
I’ve coveredBitches Brew quite a bit in these pages, so I won’t cover the complete history of the album’s creation here. I recommend reading my coverage of the Bitches Brew sessions in my article about the RSD Double Image release of outtakes. The interesting thing about this release is that MoFi says that this release is mastered from the original tapes (I’ll get into this later). This is pretty much the M.O. for Mobile Fidelity: get the best versions of the original analog (or digital) tapes for a release and then create the best possible high fidelity audiophile release. Often this involves restoring these original tapes, thus preserving them for future reissues. In the case of the One-Step releases, they get a custom box set treatment and are pressed on vinyl that is a proprietary formula known as “Super Vinyl.” From a post on their Facebook page:
“MoFi SuperVinyl is a new proprietary compound developed by NEOTECH and RTI to address two specific areas of improvement: noise floor reduction and enhanced groove definition. The vinyl composition features a new carbonless dye (hold the disc up to the light and see) and produces the world’s quietest surfaces. This high-definition formula also allows for the creation of cleaner grooves that are indistinguishable from the original lacquer. Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab feels SuperVinyl provides the closest approximation of what we hear in the mastering lab.”
September 28, 2021 Post to Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab Facebook page
Beyond the vinyl composition, there is the One-Step process itself, which is an attempt to create a record as close as possible to the original master by removing the typical three steps involved in creating additional copies to provide a way to create additional stampers as they wear out over the lifetime of the plates. The creation of the additional copies adds a small bit of loss in fidelity. Here is what MoFi says about this (Updated in July 2022):
Instead of utilizing the industry-standard three-step lacquer process, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s new UltraDisc One-Step (UD1S) uses only one step, bypassing two processes of generational loss. While three-step processing is designed for optimum yield and efficiency, UD1S is created for the ultimate in sound quality. Just as Mobile Fidelity pioneered the UHQR (Ultra High-Quality Record) with JVC in the 1980s, UD1S again represents another state-of-the-art advance in the record-manufacturing process. MFSL engineers begin with the original master tapes, painstakingly transfer them to DSD 256, and meticulously cut a set of lacquers. These lacquers are used to create a very fragile, pristine UD1S stamper called a “convert.” Delicate “converts” are then formed into the actual record stampers, producing a final product that literally and figuratively brings you closer to the music. By skipping the additional steps of pulling another positive and an additional negative, as done in the three-step process used in standard pressings, UD1S produces a final LP with the lowest noise floor possible today. The removal of the additional two steps of generational loss in the plating process reveals tremendous amounts of extra musical detail and dynamics, which are otherwise lost due to the standard copying process. The exclusive nature of these very limited pressings guarantees that every UD1S pressing serves as an immaculate replica of the lacquer sourced directly from the original master tape. Every conceivable aspect of vinyl production is optimized to produce the most perfect record album available today.
From mobile fidelity’s website on the bitches brew One-step. emphasis mine.
One notable discrepancy here is that this description says the copy made is DSD 256, but the description above it on the webpage says the source is “1/4″ / 15 IPS analog master to DSD 64.” This is maybe a result of the use of stock copy, but they should fix this.
What Master Was Used?
The 4 CD boxset titled The Complete Bitches Brew was released in 1998. In addition to taking some creative liberties by including music from sessions that were not part of the Bitches Brew proper, the decision was made to remix the original Bitches Brew album, which required the recreation of Teo Macero’s original edits of the album. In an interview with Davis biographer Paul Tingen, Producer Bob Belden said the reason for this was twofold. First, they wanted to have a consistent sound across all of the music so all of the recordings needed to be addressed. There were disparities in the LP mixes of the material that had been released on albums like Big Fun, Circle in the Round and Live-Evil, and the a lot of the outtakes had never been mixed before. Secondly, the two-track masters had not aged well. Session engineer Mark Wilder elaborated, “So, we could either work with inferior tape copies from other countries, or go back to the original eight tracks and re-mix them, and so save ourselves a generation. The decision was made to re-mix from the original multitracks, just like with the Miles & Gil and Quintet boxed sets.”
The information available about the Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recording One-Step of Bitches Brew says only that it was mastered from “the original master tapes,” but we don’t know if that is based on the 1998 remix upon which all of the subsequent Sony releases have been made. The 2014 Mobile Fidelity Original Master Recording, which according to discogs.com pricing is selling for around $200 may also be based on this same 1998 remix. The 2014 release was created by MoFi in-house engineers Kreig Wunderlich and Shawn Britton.
Since this uses a different process to create the records, it stands to reason that there will need to be new mechanicals created from the master tapes– lacquers, stampers and converts. None of the parts used for the 2014 release would be used for this. Which brings us to the tape used to make these parts. I couldn’t find any direct reference to what Wunderlich and Britton did to create a master tape for the 2014 release.
My opinion and speculation is that since Sony decided that the original 1970 master tapes were unusable for their own releases, they wouldn’t likely give any reissue label access to anything other than masters from the new mixes they created.
Reading about the work that Acoustic Sounds did for the recent UHQR Kind of Blue we know that Bernie Grundman created a copy of the vault masters for Kind of Blue in the 1990’s for Classic Recordings (which Acoustic Sounds bought) and this was used for the UHQR rather than go back to the vault. Considering that Mobile Fidelity was in a similar situation, they presumably acquired master tapes for the 2014 release and created their own DSD copy. Many reviews online say that the Original Master Recording releases (both the 2 LP and the SACD versions) are superior to the original releases of Bitches Brew, so my hopes are high for this release sounding fantastic. I would love to hear more about the tape used for the master. Was it, to quote Wilder, an “inferior tape copy from another country” or was it another source?
Even over 50 years after the release of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew its importance to the history of recorded jazz is undisputed, though certainly not universally loved. It’s place in the pantheon of jazz contributes to the interest in preserving it and creating new editions of it. One could argue that the 1998 remix is a different album than the original 1970 album created by Davis and Macero, and if this is what Mobile Fidelity used in 2014 and for this One-Step, how will this be received by the community at large? Nevertheless, I’m interested to hear and see this new reissue done by one of the premiere reissue labels.
You can pre-order the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs One-Step for Bitches Brew either from Mobile Fidelity (the pre-order link is not live yet) or any number of other places online like Music Direct. The MSRP on it is $125.
Note: I’ll update this article if there is any additional information about the source tapes for this release.
2021 was a year that was framed pretty much as “the year after 2020.” Every topic of discussion in 2021 seemed to be saddled with the context of the previous year. As I’m writing this, the topics still surround COVID, and lately the latest variant of that, plus vaccinations, and boosters.
All aspects of the music industry resumed with fits and starts. Concerts kind of resumed and kind of didn’t. Artists needed to evaluate for themselves what kind of risk they were willing to put their fans in and themselves. At this writing I have not been to a concert since March of 2020. I had tickets for three shows this year that honestly I wasn’t comfortable attending so I skipped them. This summer was looking better for outdoor shows, and maybe in 2022 I’ll look closer at those kinds of events.
The vinyl record situation was worse than 2020. All of the manufacturing issues we saw in 2020 were still in effect and delays were commonplace just in getting the records pressed. This was compounded by shipping issues– records manufactured overseas were held up on shipping containers– my vinyl copy of the brilliant Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra was ordered in March and didn’t ship until September! This was certainly out of Luaka Bop’s control, but they did a really great job of keeping folks in the loop about where things were with the shipping. It was not a big deal for me since I had the digital stream and download for it.
Record Store Day resumed in 2021 as a two-date “Drops” one on June 21st and one on July 17th. This accomplished a couple of things. First, it would theoretically reduce the attendance (and lines) by splitting up the releases, and secondly it would help with the delays from manufacturing as well. The upshot of that was that the titles I wanted were moved to the 2nd Drop so I only needed to go to the 2nd one. That happened to be the Grand Opening of the new Davenport location of Ragged Records, too, so that was really great!
With all of that, let’s get to the list! In no particular order, these are my favorite releases from 2021! It’s interesting to me that all of these releases were available on Bandcamp, which is where I did the majority of my purchases in 2021. The first six in this list are all Iowa, or Iowa-adjacent acts.
Joel Sires – Dog Years – The debut solo EP from Joel Sires, frontman for Cedar Falls band TWINS came out in April. I reviewed it for Little Village in November of 2020, but delays with manufacturing the 10″ vinyl EP held the release until April. This release on the new Seeder Records label started out as a release based on the amazing solo shows Joel does in the area, but in an interview with KUNI recently, he said that he really wanted to have a full band on these songs, so he quickly assembled a band to back him producing a release that doesn’t stray far from the last TWINS album’s sound, leaning towards folk rock. A fantastic release from one of Iowa’s best new songwriters.
David Huckfelt — Room Enough, Time Enough – David Huckfelt released his second solo album in 2021. Since Huckfelt’s other gig was over 10 years in The Pines, it’s not surprising that his solo work sounds reminiscent of those brilliant albums. With Room Enough, Time Enough he continues his own musical path surrounding himself with brilliant sidefolks including luminaries Howe Gelb and Billy Sedlmayr as well as notable . The album has an overarching concept regarding land rights and the plight of native Americans. As a solo artist Huckfelt has expanded beyond the folk atmospherics of The Pines to a bold sound of his own. My review for Little Village Magazine.
Alex Ramsey – Bonsai – Speaking of The Pines, keyboard player and brother of Benson Ramsey, Alex released his debut solo record in 2021– a release that was a long time coming. He recorded it before COVID, but the mastering and mixing all happened during it. All of the instruments were played by Alex at home, but certainly doesn’t sound like it. The album, as you might expect leans towards his keyboards and vocals, which makes it stand out from the catalog of The Pines. Delightfully complex record. You can read my review and Q&A with Alex in Little Village here.
Hex Girls – Pop Fluff – Cedar Falls band Hex Girls returned with their second EP titled Pop Fluff, but the title was more tongue-in-cheek than an accurate description of what was contained inside. The band gained some polish by filling the group out with a dedicated keyboard player moving from their rough-and-tumble post-punk sound to something I think is more akin to the no wave sound of early Talking Heads and Television. The band’s dedication to offbeat humor continues to make them one of the most interesting bands to come out of eastern Iowa. You can read my review from Little Village here.
Anthony Worden and the Illiterati – How Could We Lose When We’re So Sincere? – Iowa City band Anthony Worden and the Illiterati’s 2021 album How Could We Lose When We’re So Sincere? finds the band returning to the winning pop rock formula they used on their 2020 album Voilá– beautiful melodies and harmonies, polished production. Again, the secret sauce is letting Penny Peach take lead in spots. WOW. Killer formula. The constructs of the album are clearly influenced by a time when AM radio would bring the hit singles– a time sorely lost, I’m afraid. If you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Todd Rundgren or Big Star, I think there is enough here to satisfy. Plus this album is available on super limited edition vinyl– well worth occupying your turntable.
Penny Peach – brain gamez Speaking of Ms. Peach, she put out her debut EP in 2021. I described the record on Facebook as being, “a shoegazer cupcake with sludgy frosting.” Thick distorted guitars provide a bed for Elly Hofmaier’s powerful vocal acrobatics: swooping to dizzying heights, yodeling and dipping to growling metal. It’s at once pop and dark.
loess – totems – Somewhat unexpectedly, loess released their first album since 2017’s brilliant Pocosin. Earlier in the year there were some photos in Ian Pullman’s Facebook feed that hinted that there was some activity in the duo’s camp and then the album kind of dropped with little notice at the end of September. totems continues the beautifully glitchy soundscape loess has been known for now 20 years on (wow). Some say that the sound of loess is derivative of the early works of Boards of Canada, but since BoC didn’t stay in that mode long, and I welcome more of the pretty clockwork sounds.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It / O Come All Ye Faithful – In 2021 we got not one, but TWO new releases from Hiss Golden Messenger! In June, the follow-up to the fantastic Terms of Surrender came out. Titled Quietly Blowing It, it feels like a sequel to me as it shares the intimate emotion of the previous album. The band backing him is largely made up of his touring group and the locked-in grooves benefit from the road wear.
In October we were gifted another release in the form of a holiday album. O Come All Ye Faithful is a mix of holiday standards and original tunes. Not content with straight readings of perennial favorites, the HGM spin on songs like the title track and “Silent Night” end up being dramatically new readings: new keys, changed rhythm and melody. If you’re not listening closely, these seem like HGM originals. Not a bad thing, and ends up being a really fresh addition to my expanding Christmas collection on vinyl. I ordered the “Peak Vinyl” variant which came with a 2nd LP called The Sounding Joy: Hiss Golden Messenger Meets Revelators on South Robinson Street which is a dub/remix record of some of the tracks from the album. Incidentally, The Revelators is a new side-project/collaboration with Cameron Ralston that is supposed to have a release in 2022 and will be dub and free jazz influenced.
Elsa Hewitt – LUPA– Kind of an unexpected release from Tompkins Square in that it doesn’t really fit the typical American Primitive guitar or archival releases they’re known for. For me this release really establishes Tomkins Square as a curator of music– no matter what genre. Hewitt hails from the UK and her latest release is a jaw droppingly gorgeous blend of her vocals and electronic production. It seems like this release was overlooked by many this year.
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises – This release is seemingly on everyone’s Top list for 2021 and for good reason. It’s a compelling blend of Floating Points electronics, sax (and vocals) from jazz legend Pharoah Sanders and lush orchestral additions by the London Symphony Orchestra. The main composition in multiple parts is titled “Promises” and is composed and scored by Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points. Sanders and Shepherd worked together in the studio, with the LSO part added later. Since the album is really one large work in movements, there are recurring themes throughout as you’d expect but the payoff for me is listening to the work as a whole. I’m always looking for new directions for jazz beyond the standards, and this album fits that bill nicely.
Eleventh Dream Day – Since Grazed – One of the more surprising things about the latest from Chicago band Eleventh Dream Day is the how this band continues to be GREAT after 40 years. The formula of the band is pretty straightforward– strong garage rock with heavy Neil Young leanings makes for a sound that is both classic and uniquely fresh in the current landscape of rock bands. This album started as a solo Rick Rizzo album but morphed into an EDD album. Sprawling over 2 LP’s it moves around stylistically. More so than their last couple of albums which were well-heeled rockers. After I picked this album up, I decided to revisit their earlier releases again.
Marisa Anderson/William Tyler – Lost Futures – Tyler and Anderson met while doing a tribute show to the late David Berman and became quick friends. The obviously have simpatico ideas about guitar music and Lost Futures cements that idea. I was less familiar with Anderson’s albums than William Tyler’s but listening to Lost Futures, it isn’t possible for me to tell who is doing what– the two of them together creating a work bigger than the both of them. A wonderful addition to my growing collection of Tyler’s work.
I Think Like Midnight – Interim Contingent – I Think Like Midnight started out as sort of a tribute to the defunct American instrumental rock band Pell Mell, and certainly their first album Warm Seclusion Structure achieved that goal in its intuitive understanding of the source music. It wasn’t a cover album, but it sounded like what Pell Mell might have sounded like had they stayed together. Fast forward seven years and I Think Like Midnight has moved away from strictly being a guitar effort but holds tight to instrumentals. Every release from ITLM is worth checking out– cinematic and unique with enough obscure tips of the hat in the mix to keep music geeks searching for references. ITLM had planned to hit the studio to work on their next album, but these plans were derailed by COVID and Interim Contingent was birthed instead. This album leans heavily towards loops of electronics as the basis and as a result makes a really compelling argument for the band to work more in this arena. “Kit Lambert Begins To Dream” sounds like an outtake from the Wang Chung “To Live and Die in L.A.” soundtrack. “Dot Outlier” sounds like Michael Brook– breathtaking and reverbby. This is a record any instrumental rock band should check out. Brilliant release.
Neal Francis – In Plain Sight – In Plain Sight is the second album from Chicago songwriter Neal Francis and the first on his new label home ATO Records. His first album Changes was on Colemine Records’ subsidiary Karma Chief, which is how I first heard him since I follow all of the releases on that label. Francis’s particular blend of Dr. John and Leon Russel funky keyboard-driven soul is earthy and real and it fuels his trajectory as one of the bigger independent artists.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Georgia Blue – Fulfilling a promise that Isbell made on election night in 2020 where if Georgia “turned blue” he recorded an album of covers of Georgia music. We have two tracks from R.E.M. (“Nightswimming” and “Driver 8”), James Brown, Indigo Girls, Gladys Night, The Allman Brothers and more. Anyone who’s been to an Isbell concert is familiar with the covers he’ll usually bring out– he’s a fan of music. So, this album is a really great addition to the Isbell catalog. Plus, he does “Driver 8” which is my very favorite R.E.M. song. I picked up the blue vinyl version for RSD which is gorgeous.
Surf Zombies – In Color – More tasty surf-influenced guitar rock from Iowa’s premier guitar instrumental band. Can’t get enough from Surf Zombies’ modern take on surf rock.
Nathan Salsburg – תהלים = Psalms – Nathan Salsburg is usually known for his albums of American Primative-influenced guitar work. For Psalms his inspiration was the joy he experienced as a child singing Hebrew at camp and a desire to bring that joy back to his own life. For this album he created wholly new arrangements of these to fit how he wanted to sing them. The resulting album is a beautiful testament to his spirituality and desire to share it. I love “Psalm 147.”
El Michels Affair meets Liam Bailey – Ekundayo Inversions – In 2019 Leon Michels produced UK artist Liam Bailey’s album Ekundayo for Michel’s label Big Crown. Michels is “El” as in El Michels Affair who is maybe best known for their Wu-Tang Clan instrumental covers albums. I was familiar with El Michels Affair, but not Liam Bailey or the Ekundayo album. I first heard about Ekundayo Inversions from an email from Colemine Records and the sample track was enough for me to decide to order it. Ekundayo Inversions is remixes and dubs of some of the songs from Ekundayo plus some interstitial skits. Plus, it has what is probably the last appearance of Lee “Scratch” Perry (R.I.P).
Jeff Parker – Forfolks – Just barely making 2021 is the latest from jazz guitarist Jeff Parker (it came out 12/10/21 digitally). I was pretty surprised about this release considering all of his work in 2020, including the BRILLIANT Suite For Max Brown. Forfolks is a strictly solo Jeff Parker record. Stripped down guitar and loops, but really big sounding ironically. Beautiful record.
Charlie Parr – Last of the Better Days Ahead – Duluth musician Charlie Parr’s sixteenth album is on the legendary Folkways label after a brief turn on Red House Records. He’s not braving any new territory here, but we get more of the amazing Piedmont Blues style guitar work and Parr’s warm and human songwriting. Double LP!
At some point I found a copy of She’s The One in a CD cutout bin not too long after the album was released in 1996. From a Tom Petty fan perspective, ironically, I heard this before I ever heard Wildflowers completely. 1995 and 1996 were years of exploration for me musically. I was living in Minneapolis (Eagan, specifically) and my ears were filled with the alternative nation of REV-105 and I was discovering new bands and music every day it seemed and I wasn’t focused on classic rock. I missed the Wildflowers release completely and ended up picking up its neglected sibling purely coincidentally. The irony being that She’s The One became the home for tracks that were lopped off Wildflowers when Warner Brothers suggested it be a single album rather than Petty’s original vision of a double.
As much as I have come to love Wildflowers and its 2020 bloated retort to the eternal Pettyfan joke “When is Wildflowers going to be reissued?”, Wildflowers… And All The Rest gave us nearly every minute of tape we could stand of the album, with every possible session that could be considered related to Wildflowers proper, I still hold a fondness for She’s The One, the quirky non-sequitur of songs collected spanning incidental music, covers and multiple takes.
One of the criticisms put forth about Wildflowers… And All The Rest was that it didn’t include any of the at-the-time new songs from She’s The One. Most people looked at She’s The One as kind of an extension of Wildflowers— particularly since the soundtrack benefitted by the inclusion of four very strong songs from those sessions: “Climb That Hill,” “Hung Up And Overdue,” “California,” and “Hope You Never.” The rest of the original soundtrack was new material recorded specifically for the film including two songs which would become important songs in Petty’s catalog, “Walls” with its amazing chorus “‘Cause you’ve got a heart so big/ it could crush this town/And I can’t hold out forever/Even walls fall down” and Petty’s tribute to his future second wife Dana, “Angel Dream” which became a staple in later live shows.
Amidst all of the personal turmoil in Petty’s life including the firing of drummer Stan Lynch from the Heartbreakers, divorce from his wife of 22 years Jane and the beginning of a heroin addiction that was hidden from public view until Warren Zanes’ “Petty” biography came out in 2015, he was approached to curate the soundtrack for the Ed Burns film She’s The One. Quoted in “Petty,” he says about the project, “I was approached about putting together a soundtrack for the movie. I liked what I’d seen of Ed Burns’s work. But, when I took the job I didn’t think it through. I wound up in a situation where they wanted different artists for a soundtrack. They had a few, but they wanted me to call more artists.” Eventually he called his manager Tony Dimitriades and told him he couldn’t do this. Dimitriades suggested that he should do the soundtrack himself, “like Paul Simon did for The Graduate.”
Ultimately, it was a failure on many levels. Petty was forced to rush to meet a deadline, “I was completely off my game.” he says in his biography, “I was doing something that was against my grain.” The film’s release was pushed back six months, leaving the soundtrack to appear to be a Heartbreakers album, “Some people thought I was following up Wildflowers… My record came out with no movie, I was so depressed– that just made me more depressed.” The album sold only 490,000 copies and ultimately went gold, but marks the sole disappointment in his catalog.
I would say that the 1996 version of She’s The One suffers from being a somewhat literal listing of the songs included in the soundtrack. We get two versions of “Walls”: one version is what was the single (“Walls (Circus)” and the other is “Walls (No. 3)” apparently created to satisfy Burns’s request of having a different one for the closing credits. We get two versions of “Angel Dream” as well and things cap off with a 57-second bouncy piano/organ instrumental “Airport.” The strings/piano/guitar instrumental arrangement of “Hope On Board” is positively breathtaking and too short. Another complicating factor are the two cover songs, which Petty typically didn’t include on proper albums. The resulting release comes off as kind of a cast-off in that regard, and if anything a bit unbalanced particularly considering the usually careful sequencing on Petty albums.
What the team ultimately settled on is now titled Angel Dream: Songs and Music from The Motion Picture ‘She’s The One’ and capitalizes on the great songs included on She’s The One: “Walls,” “Grew Up Fast” (a personal favorite), “Zero From Outer Space,” the Lucinda Williams cover “Change The Locks” (a typo according to Dana Petty in her interview with David Fricke on SiriusXM since the correct title is “Changed The Locks”) the Beck cover “Asshole,” “Supernatural Radio” (which is presented now as an extended take) and adds two songs recorded in July 1993 (in the middle of the sessions for Wildflowers, incidentally) during the sessions that produced “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” for the Greatest Hits album (“Something’s In The Air,” the other new track, was recorded in February that year). These songs are notable as having Stan Lynch on drums. None of the songs on the original Wildflowers nor the original She’s The One had him on them. These songs are a JJ Cale cover “Thirteen Days” (recorded on July 22, 1993, this shows up in a photo of a proposed tracklist for Wildflowers included in the box set), “105 Degrees” (recorded on July 23, 1993) and “One Of Life’s Little Mysteries” (the earliest track, recorded on August 4, 1992). We also get an instrumental reworking of “Angel Dream” titled “French Disconnection.”
It’s interesting to note that the song “Lonesome Dave” from the Wildflowers sessions which was included in the An American Treasure box set and not in the …All The Rest boxset was recorded on July 23 as well. In the “Petty” biography by Zanes, George Drakoulias remembers cutting many more tracks than “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and we’re getting a bit of a peek into those sessions with Stan Lynch with the posthumous releases.
“…The idea behind Angel Dream was to make it a tighter album, and something that would make sense with this music after the three original Wildflowers tracks were taken off of it (for inclusion on Wildflowers All The Rest). It was important to have a really tight set of songs, sequenced in a way that honors Tom’s sense of how important albums are, in the story that they can tell. (This logic is behind the decision to leave certain songs off of the original Wildflowers, as McCool discussed in his earlier post.)
For Angel Dream the decision was made to not include the second versions of two songs (Walls and Angel Dream) that are on the She’s The One soundtrack, and also to not include the music cues that related more to the film. This was reconfigured to be a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album, not a film soundtrack album. Since we needed more material to fill out the album, we went back to three tracks that were recorded during the Wildflowers sessions, and an unreleased instrumental track.”
Steve Hoffman Forums post 6/15/2021
Ulyate touches on the inclusion of the new songs, “Can songs that were not recorded at the same time as others live on the same album? Yes they can, if they fit into the “vibe”. Without Tom there will always be second-guessing, but please know we did our best.”
The album is a really good listen and while I question the absolute necessity of its existence, it’s a record I’ll play frequently. The idea is that this is the version that will “replace” the original album in the new cataloging of Petty, though the original 1996 version (which was remastered in 2018) will continue to be available as a download.
Angel Dream Tracklist with my notes (special thanks to Mark Felsot for corrections):
Angel Dream (No. 2) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Grew Up Fast from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Change The Locks (Lucinda Williams cover) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Zero From Outer Space from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Asshole (Beck cover) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
One of Life’s Little Mysteries new track recorded August 4, 1992 with Stan Lynch
Walls (No. 3) from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Thirteen Days (JJ Cale cover) new track recorded July 23, 1993 with Stan Lynch
105 Degrees new track recorded July 24, 1993 with Stan Lynch
Climb That Hill from original 1996 soundtrack, remixed for this release
Supernatural Radio (extended version) new version recorded June 4, 1996
French Disconnection (Instrumental) new track recorded April 11, 1996
The new RSD Drops lists came out April 7th for both the June 12th and the July 17th Drops. Similar to 2020, Record Store Day is being split into multiple dates to help with crowding in the stores. I think this also helps with the vinyl pressing delays as the record manufacturing is still catching up from the COVID shutdowns and related problems.
As I predicted in my post last year about the excellent Double Image: Rare Miles from the Complete Bitches Brew Sessions 2 LP release, the next in the series is one based on the 1970 sessions that resulted in the Jack Johnson (AKA A Tribute To Jack Johnson) album. Titled Champions – Rare Miles from the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions, it will come out for the second RSD Drops on July 17th, and will be around $21.97 according to Bull Moose, and will be on opaque yellow vinyl.
According to the expert in all things Electric Miles, Paul Tingen, Davis was spurred on by his recent exposure to Jimi Hendrix to state in a 1969 Rolling Stone interview, “I could put together the greatest rock ‘n roll band you ever heard.” Tingen surmises that Davis seeing Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies at the Fillmore East New Years Day, 1970 was the biggest catalyst for his new sound.
Davis was in the Columbia studios with his band for a marathon 12 dates starting February 18th and continuing through June 4th– an incredibly productive time for Davis yielding many more recordings than the two that ended up on the 1971 LP. Distilling the massive amount of time in the studio for Davis into releases that make sense organizationally continues to be a challenge, and has since the beginning involved some creativity on the part of the record producers and the label. This is compounded by the fact that Davis rolled tape for every minute he was in the studio.
Following the sessions that would form Bitches Brew (August 19th-21st, 1969) Davis continued recording music that followed the new electric Jazz/Funk path he was taking. The compilers of the Complete Bitches Brew opted to take sessions from November 1969 through to February 1970 that used the same band lineup as Bitches Brew. In that regard, the Double Image release is less of an outtakes of Bitches Brew as it is maybe a part II.
The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions pretty much pick up where The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions drop off. “Take It Or Leave It” was recorded on February 2nd, and the initial “Willie Nelson” sessions start just over two weeks later on February 18th.
Side A 1. “Duran – Take 4” (March 17, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 2. “Sugar Ray” (March 20, 1970 at Columbia Studio B) 3. “Johnny Bratton Take 4” (February 27, 1970 at Columbia Studio B)
Side B 1. “Ali – Take 3” (May 19, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 2. “Ali – Take 4” (May 19, 1970 at Columbia Studio C) 3. “Right Off – Take 11” (April 7, 1970 at Columbia Studio B)
As an entry in the catalog of Miles Davis music, The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions represent a transitional snapshot. These are the sound of Davis and his sidemen searching. Big looped sections on the eventual album from these sessions show the band landing blocks of music that work, but also seems to include the band kind of reaching. A lot of this was a result of the very unstructured approach in the studio. From the Tingen article:
“Everything was experimentation,” recalled drummer Billy Cobham. “There was not one moment that whatever was put on a piece of paper would not be changed.” “A lot of times the way we did things was very fragmented,” added Dave Holland. “Often I didn’t know whether we were recording or rehearsing. We would have these fragments, these sketches of ideas, and we’d play them for 10 minutes. And then we might do one more take like that, and move on to the next thing. One of the things that created the sound of the studio recordings is that were all trying to figure out what was going on. This created a certain space—it wasn’t tentative, but it was searching. And Miles had a policy of taping everything. When it was then finally put together, there was a lot of editing that went on.”
Even with this somewhat randomly-organized recording, the highlight is Davis, who plays some fantastic runs around the grooves. This seems to be a result the physical and mental health of Davis during this time. The cover of Champions is a photograph of Davis in the ring taken by Jim Davis shortly after these sessions. Tingen quotes Chick Corea, “Miles was, “totally clean, working out in the gym, physically looking great, and living the life of a health freak. He had this thing about fish and told me how good fish was for you.” In short, Miles was in great physical and mental shape, and at the peak of his trumpet powers.”
In the Davis catalog, Jack Johnson is a record that is somewhat obscure; maybe “obscured” is a more accurate description. Even though it uses a similar approach of editing miles of tape into a two-track epic funk, it is overshadowed by achievements of Bitches Brew. The Champions collection of tracks from these sessions helps put some context around somewhat meandering Jack Johnson album and also opens the door for the following Electric albums which include my personal favorites Big Fun and On The Corner.
Speaking of On The Corner, it’s almost certain that the next RSD-exclusive title based on the series of “Complete Sessions” for Miles Davis will be from the 2007 Complete On The Corner Sessions made up of sessions from June of 1972 through May of 1975.
The year-end lists are upon us again. Time for me to list out the ways I’m getting further away from the beaten path of popular music.
The worldwide pandemic of 2020 had a gigantic impact on the music industry. The most obvious of which was the cancelation of most tours. Artists were forced to figure out new revenue streams or at least better utilize the revenue streams they had. Many artists embraced live streaming to varying degrees of success. The ones who did it right were the ones who either partnered with someone to provide the streaming, or if they did it themselves made sure the quality was up to the standards of produced live content. A significant upswing of Patreon use helped many artists weather the lack of income storm and Bandcamp’s “Bandcamp Friday” once-a-month event where they waived their own fees had the double effect of raising awareness of bands who had merch as well as the long-tail effect of encouraging more regular use of Bandcamp. I was a fairly avid shopper at Bandcamp, but in 2020, I was buying multiple releases per month as acts I follow released Bandcamp-only albums or songs. As a result, my Best of 2020 includes some digital-only releases for the first time that I can remember.
From a vinyl perspective, 2020 was as screwed up as everything else due to COVID-19. Just ahead of the widespread lockdown one of the two plants that manufacture the lacquer plates required to start the process of creating the physical stampers burned down taking out about 70-80% of the lacquer plate availability. Add to that the fact that manufacturing in general was impacted either by the infection rate of employees interacting, or by limiting the number of employees when they could work, pretty much all release dates for vinyl were pushed way out. Add to that the fact that the US Postal Service suffered losses due to sorting facilities being limited as a kind of way to prevent mail in ballots for the 2020 primaries and the impact of COVID-19 cases with the employees, it’s a miracle any titles were released this year.
Record Store Day in April was delayed to June and then eventually re-tooled as three “RSD Drops” in August, September and October. Most of the titles for RSD in April were manufactured in 2019 in anticipation for the usual vinyl manufacturing delays surrounding the April event. As such, most of the big titles for that event came out as planned, with some titles being pulled out and released outside of the drops and some delayed to later Drop dates or Black Friday RSD (which happened as planned). RSD 2021 is slated for June 12th, presumably so that manufacturing can better deal with these restrictions. The other obvious reason for pushing the date out is that it is predicted that general availability of vaccines for COVID-19 should be out by then and the risk of going to a store would be lessened and as such, the stores can have a regular “big” event. The downside of it being in June is the temperatures are starting to get warmer and will increase the risk of warping the records both in shipping to the stores as well as any shipping for online purchases.
Here are my Top 20 releases from 2020 (in no particular order):
Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown – Parker’s follow up to his brilliant 2016 album The New Breed finds him continuing the very contemporary blending of jazz and electronic elements. Fans of his work in Chicago Post Rock outfit Tortoise will find a lot to enjoy with this release and maybe will enjoy it more than the odd sidestep of 2016’s Catastrophist. Get Suite For Max Brown from Bandcamp.
Chicago Underground Quartet – Good Days – Speaking of Jeff Parker, the reunion of one of Rob Mazurek’s more notorious projects Chicago Underground Quartet– an expansion of his Chicago Underground Duo with drummer Chad Taylor whose last album was the self-titled release on Thrill Jockey back in 2001 (way out of print and copies go for over $75 when they show up…). This session was an unplanned reunion in that producer Chris Schlarb instigated by getting the individual musicians to come to L.A. to work on another project and then offered to produce a Chicago Underground Quartet record. The album was recorded in one day, but doesn’t sound thrown together due to the fact that most of the songs were actually composed for the other members prior to the recording.
Exploding Star Orchestra – Dimensional Stardust A third album with Jeff Parker on it and a second album from Rob Mazurek. I loved the 2010 release Stars Have Shapes on Chicago Blues and Jazz label Delmark. (Still in print!) Exploding Star Orchestra is an expansive interpretation of Mazurek’s experiments in abstract jazz. To me the best parts of Dimensional Stardust are when the band hits a groove, like on track 2, “A Wrinkle in Time Sets Concentric Circles Reeling”
Parker’s clean guitar runs run counterpoint to the horns on this track which lends a lot of complexity for the listener to follow through the various musical strands of the work. The flute from Nicole Mitchell is fantastic and adds a fluttering beauty to the proceedings. Very much recommended for fans of Thrill Jockey bands.
Tame Impala – The Slow Rush – I honestly kind of forgot that this was a 2020 release! Some of that might be that it came out in early February, but also that a couple of tracks had been floating around for a while. “Borderline” came out in April of 2019! I picked up the indie exclusive green vinyl version of this from Ragged Records in Rock Island, IL. The kind of pissy thing about this vinyl release was they didn’t provide a download with it and there wasn’t a good way to get a download of it. Now, you can either buy it from Amazon, or if you buy the vinyl release from Amazon, you can do the “Auto Rip” download, so that is a good option, now.
My solution to this back in February was to buy a new CD of it on eBay from a seller who seemed to have a grey market source for a lot of new titles. These shipped from Asia even though the seller was from Massachusetts. Because the shipping took so long, the seller provided a download of the CD as well! I doubt any part of this was legal, strictly speaking. But, the CD I got was in shrink and included all of the CD artwork which was a calendar due to the theme of the album of being a year. That calendar artwork is not part of the vinyl release, incidentally.
Matt Wilson Orchestra – When I Was A Writer – Matt Wilson was part of the seminal Minneapolis band Trip Shakespeare along with his brother Dan Wilson. Trip Shakespeare made the leap to a major label in the early 90’s where they ultimately ended breaking up. Dan Wilson and John Munson formed Semisonic of “Closing Time” fame. Dan would go on to pen songs for the likes of Adele, and Semisonic has reformed in 2020. Matt Wilson joined Twin Cities band Polara briefly and also released one solo record in 1998 and also formed The Twilight Hours with Munson. Matt Wilson’s latest project “Matt Wilson Orchestra” represents a return to songwriting for Wilson after a break. The “Orchestra” is made up of largely acoustic instruments and heavenly vocal harmonies. The lineup of instruments includes banjo and harp, as odd as that seems, but it totally works here and really comes as close to what I think Trip Shakespeare might have sounded like in 2020 as anything. The vocal harmonies recall The Mamas and the Papas. An all around gorgeous record and really should be on more peoples’ radars. You can order the CD/LP/Download from Wilson’s new label Pravda Records HERE.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – ReunionsJason Isbell was quoted somewhere (I can’t find it at the moment) that his goal is to write songs that feel like the songs we heard on the radio years ago. To that end, I think he has achieved his goal. Isbell’s particular take on country and rock (he’s considered Americana, but these days I feel like he is really just rock to me, maybe in the same way The Eagles are really a rock band, even though they have “Desperado” and “Seven Bridges Road” in their catalog). Recognizing the tough position that brick and mortar record stores were in due to the pandemic, he released Reunions early to record stores in a special “Dreamsicle” orange pressing that came with a print of the album art and an art print of his 1959 “Red Eye” Les Paul done by Iowa artist Karl Haglund. This was a constant soundtrack this summer as I worked on my landscaping as a distraction from not being able to do anything out of the home.
TWINS – Dream On – Cedar Falls, IA band TWINS came back with a new album and new sound in 2020. Known primarily as a power pop band based on their guitars, hooks and harmonies of their first three records, the four years between Square America and Dream On saw the band change their lineup and gave lead singer and lyricist Joel Sires a chance to dig through his personal record crates to find inspiration in Springsteen, Mellencamp and Steve Earle. The resulting record represents a welcome maturity in the band and Sires flexes his lyric craft opening the door to his first solo release which comes out this year. Read my review at Little Village.
Tom Misch and Yussef Dayes – What Kinda Music – Tom Misch got his start as a Soundcloud celebrity and released a few records under his own label. For his Blue Note Records debut, he partners with drummer Yussef Dayes to create what I think is the best example of what Blue Note Records should be in the new century. A blend of nouveau ideas about the landscape of music and jazz tonality. Misch is young enough to claim John Mayer as an influence, and the guitars on this album owe a debt to Mayer, but more than that, the album draws from Hip Hop and electronic music. In that regard it fits in with the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. The lyrics on What Kinda Music are a bit shallow so the tales of a tortured artist are not here, and honestly this would have kept this album off of a shorter list. But, the album sounds great and I found myself going back to this and his Mix Tape 2 album quite a bit in the last quarter of 2020.
Reno Bo – You Can See It All From Here – Reno Bo has been somewhat quietly cranking out brilliant rock records for about ten years. As a sideman he’s worked with the likes of Albert Hammond Jr. (of The Strokes) and Brendan Benson, and has been pretty busy in that capacity, but I anxiously await his solo releases. For his 2020 album You Can See It All From Here he returns with a sound that to me really reminds me of Tom Petty and Matthew Sweet (particularly “Like A Stone”). Bo is part of the Cabin Down Below band which holds Tom Petty tribute shows, so that isn’t probably far from the influences he would claim.
Monophonics – It’s Only Us – For Monophonic’s fourth album, the band returns with Kelly Finnigan on vocals and keys (at this point he’s a permanent member, I guess).The sunny 70’s soul and funk has been polished to a shimmer on It’s Only Us. In fact, I hear a lot of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? and The Spinners “I’ll Be Around” on it. This record is a banger from beginning to end. The title track is sheer brilliance.
Kelly Finnigan – A Joyful Sound – Speaking of Kelly Finnigan, he released another solo record in 2020, relatively soon after his 2019 solo record Tales People Tell (which got an RSD-exclusive instrumentals release in 2020) and the aforementioned Monotones album! A Joyful Sound is a holiday record on par with the Phil Spector A Christmas Gift For You. A stone cold classic that everyone needs in their collection. I wrote a review of it here.
Calexico – Seasonal Shift – Calexico put out its first holiday record in 2020. It was a collection of covers and originals. The covers include “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and “Merry Xmas (War Is Over) from Lennon and Ono. I would have liked to see “Gift X-Change” from the Aerocalexico tour album on here. Such a beautiful song from the band. Either way, a welcomed addition to the slowly-growing collection of Christmas vinyl.
Johnnie Cluney – Love Is Law – If you know of Cluney, it’s likely due to his signature illustrations for Daytrotter.com (R.I.P.). His musical output is equally notable and the Bedroom Shrine record was a favorite of mine. He continues the dusty lo-fi journey on his first album under his own name. The album sits somewhere in the neighborhood of Dinosaur Jr, Elliott Smith and Sebadoh. The physical release is a cassette and that’s pretty much the best way to listen to it. Read my review here.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Forward, Children and School Daze: Fundraisers for Durham Public Schools students – I’m kind of cheating here by lumping two releases together, but honestly they are a pair of releases that belong together, and likely everyone who bought one bought the other. Proceeds from the sales of these Bandcamp releases go to support Durham Public Schools, which ended up being even more essential as they needed to gear up for students newly in distance learning. The live shows from HGM are places where the recorded songs take on a life of their own. These two releases are made up of performances from the same tour in support of Terms of Surrender. The retooling of “Jesus Shot Me In The Head” on Forward, Children is worth the price of admission. Both of these releases support the idea that HGM could stand to have a physical live album release.
Anthony Worden and the Illiterati — ‘Voilá – Iowa City musician put out one of my favorite releases in 2020. Shining bits of guitar pop brilliance. Recommended if you stan Britpop from Costello or Nick Lowe. The additional vocals from Penny Peach take this record over the top. When’s her solo record out? Read my review in Little Village.
Elizabeth Moen – Creature of Habit – 2020 derailed the album release plans for Moen. She released two singles from her album that was supposed to come out (“Headgear” and “Ex’s House Party”) and had a tour planned to correspond with the release and then the pandemic hit. Stuck at home she started working on new songs that were anchored in synthesizers rather than her trusty guitar. The songs are some of her best yet and I can see how this “experiment” in different instruments could inform her songs going forward.
High Waisted – Sick of Saying Sorry – NYC surf-meets 60’s girlband outfit High Waisted is back with another slab of sunny dance-able pop rock. Front woman Jessica Dye really nails the 80’s girls with attitude vibe– think Linda Ronstadt, Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar. Her powerful soprano coupled with giant guitar is an infectious combination. This record was lost in the fog of COVID undeservedly and everyone should check this out.
Dope Walker – Save Save – Dope Walker is an Iowa-Minnesota supergroup/side project made up of William Elliott Whitmore, Aaron Mader (producer Lazerbeak from Twin Cities hip hop collective Doomtree), Zach Westerdahl of Ten Grand, Mike Schulte from The Pork Tornadoes, Joel Anderson from FT (The Shadow Government). Save Save is the debut record from the collective and has a very polished post hardcore sound. This album kind of missed the radar of folks (including me for most of the year).
Grateful Dead – Buffalo 5/9/1977 Box Set – For the third RSD “Drop” on 10/24, we were treated to the second vinyl box treatment of the four-night May 1977 run represented in the Get Shown The Light CD box set released in May of 2017 for the anniversary of that 4 night run. In 2017 the legendary Cornell show was released as a vinyl boxed set. The second box set is from Buffalo the night after Cornell. This show is notable for the fantastic “Help Is On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Franklins Tower” opener, largely regarded as the best performance of this sequence. The Cornell show was the one that opened the door to the Dead for me, so I’m super happy to have this show. I think that the existence of the Buffalo show might hint that we’ll get the other two nights with a similar vinyl treatment.
Pylon – Box Seminal Athens, GA band Pylon got the reissue treatment from New West Records in 2020. The first two albums were returned to print on vinyl for the first time since the 80’s and the first time on CD since I think 1997 when DFA Records reissued them with bonus tracks. As part of this effort a WONDERFUL box set was released which, along with the first two albums Chomp and Gyrate also included the “Razz Tape” — an early recording of the band and “Extras” which included b-sides and rare tracks. There was also a beautiful hardbound book with photos and other ephemera from the band which also acts as a compliment to an exhibition at the University of Georgia of the band. I wrote an in-depth breakdown of the boxset here.
As a fan of Christmas and holiday music, like many, I tend to stick with the classics. “White Christmas” from Bing Crosby, “Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry, “The Christmas Song” from Nat King Cole. That said, what is considered “classic” today at one time was a new holiday song. For example, “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney, which by any account is a classic Christmas song came out in 1979. A Charlie Brown Christmas album by The Vince Guaraldi Trio originally came out in 1965. George Winston’s December came out in 1982.
My point is that new Christmas music comes out each year, and aside from very well-done covers of the classics (“Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town” by Springsteen, Stevie Nicks’s version of “Silent Night”) attempts at new Christmas songs are generally tricky propositions. A good Christmas song is more than just holiday adjacent lyrics with some sleigh bells slapped on it for good measure, though scads of this seem to be the norm.
So, when Colemine Records, my favorite R&B label out of central Ohio announced that Kelly Finnigan was releasing a record of Christmas and Holiday songs, I was really interested to hear it. The legacy of Colemine Records stems from acts influenced by all of the big R&B labels: Motown, Stax/Volt, Atlantic, Philadelphia International, Philles, Chess, and the list goes on. Most of these labels put out Christmas records at some point (Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You and Altlantic Records Soul Christmas, being two legendary examples), so it stands to reason that Colemine would know what the bar would be for a great record.
Kelly Finnigan is a bit of a secret weapon for Colemine Records. The Bay Area musician, songwriter and producer is a recent addition to the amazing Monophonics on keys and vocals and whose 2020 album It’s Only Us is start to finish a brilliant record with a huge lush sound. His solo album The Tales People Tell from 2019 was a strong debut with Finnigan playing most of the instruments on the record, which took over two years to complete. I recently noticed that he’s a co-writer on one of my favorite Colemine singles “Next To You” by Gene Washington & The Ironsides.
You’d think that with a strong 2019 solo release and the new Monophonics record that would be enough new music, but he is closing 2020 out with a Christmas record– A Joyful Sound which came out on Tuesday digitally with the general vinyl and CD releases coming out on December 11th.
For this album, Finnigan wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. In a couple of cases, he retooled some R&B chestnuts to be Christmas songs.
The other track is from a really obscure Detroit R&B record “To Be Young” recorded by The Magic Tones. The re-boot as “To Be Young At Christmas” is a tastefully polished track, and unless you knew the original track, you wouldn’t think this wasn’t a Christmas song from the start.
My favorite song on the album, though is the heart-wrenching “No Time To Be Sad” which was the first song I heard from the album and pushed me to pre-order it instantly. That french horn, FTW. Holy crap.
I got in on the pre-order, which was a red and white swirled vinyl and came with a slipmat matching the tartan pattern of the record as well as a CD. I got the wonderful news that these pre-orders have shipped! The regular releases will come out on 12/11 and include a regular black vinyl version as well as an indie record store Christmas tree green pressing.
With so many fantastic releases coming out of Colemine, it isn’t surprising that they’d have a strong holiday release like A Joyful Sound. This is an essential release for R&B fans and Christmas music fans alike.
I’m a sucker for earnest songs about heartbreak. Clearly.
When I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Magnolia, I was struck by the songs from Aimee Mann. Like many, I was familiar with her band, the MTV darlings Til Tuesday, but I hadn’t really kept up. Though, there wasn’t much to keep up with. The classic yarn of a band breakup followed by a couple of brilliant solo albums that her label didn’t know what to do with caused her to crash land in 1999 with no label and a record in the can that wouldn’t be released.
As the story goes, Paul Thomas Anderson was moved enough by the demos of this album to craft Magnolia around it and get some more songs from her. He connected to Mann through her husband Michael Penn who scored Anderson’s first two films. She got an Oscar nom for “Save Me” (a song that was written for the film).
I rewatched Magnolia recently. A horrific storm called a “derecho” blew 130+ MPH winds across Iowa, removing over 65% of the tree cover of Cedar Rapids and knocking power out for days and cell service and internet for weeks. Once power was restored, my wife and I still didn’t have internet and cell service was spotty, so we took to digging through our sadly-neglected collection of DVD’s and Blu-Rays for stuff to watch. We hadn’t seen it probably since I bought the DVD when it came out in 2000. The film’s three hours is not an easy watch, and twenty years later the heavy-handedness of the story arc and plot devices seems almost dated. Considering this was Anderson’s carte blanche film following the breakout success of Boogie Nights, it’s apparent he was pulling out all of his directorial tools for this. The soundtrack and score of the film end up being an essential part of the narrative with songs belonging to the characters, the culmination of which is when the film pauses for the characters to sing “Wise Up.”
This part of the film was a real lump-in-the-throat moment for me and how I became a fan of this soundtrack and Bachelor No. 2. I wrote an article back in 2008 proposing a mix people could make of the two CD’s to make a perfect version of the album.
Bachelor No. 2 was released in May 2000 on Mann’s own record label Super-Ego Records. It included “How Am I Different,” “Deathly,” and “You Do” from Magnolia. “Nothing Is Good Enough” appears on the soundtrack as an instrumental. Interestingly, “Wise Up” was originally intended for the film Jerry McGuire. A really great article breaking down the soundtrack by A/VClub by Alex McLevy makes the observation that in a literal sense the song says that the film “is not going to stop” until the characters wise up. Certainly the scene in the film where the characters sing “Wise Up” is a point of inflection.
In 2006, Mobile Fidelity Soundlab corrected sin of this album not existing on vinyl by pressing a limited run of 200g half-speed mastered LP’s based on the original US CD (which means it doesn’t have “Save Me” on it in place of “Driving Sideways” as the UK version did). These days copies of this are running around $200 and I was keeping an eye out to see if any might show up for a deal.
It will be interesting to hear that new version of “Wise Up.” If I had to guess, it probably removes the drum machine. In the press release she mentions that she “used a lot of drum loops” and nowhere is it more apparent than on “Wise Up.” Though for me, that works great.
For the uninitiated, Pylon was a band from Athens, GA that started in the late 70’s by some art school students at the University of Georgia. For context in the larger history of Athens bands, they’re post-B-52’s and contemporaries of R.E.M. Their distinctively angular and beat-heavy sound would be described as post-punk and follows a path blazed by New York City bands like Talking Heads and Television.
The first phase of their career started in 1978 and after two albums on the now-defunct label DB Recs Gyrate and Chomp and enjoying some well-deserved exposure supporting bands like R.E.M. U2 and Mission of Burma on tours, they split up in late 1983.
Pylon would have just been a footnote in the history of the Athens music scene if it hadn’t been for the 1987 documentary “Athens, GA Inside/Out” which turned leagues of R.E.M. fans like myself on to the band. R.E.M. also recorded a cover of the Pylon song “Crazy” and released it as a b-side to “Driver 8” and it was the first track on Dead Letter Office, a collection of outtakes and b-sides. Peter Buck said in the liner notes, “I remember hearing their version on the radio the day that Chronic Town came out and being suddenly depressed by how much better it was than our record.”
The jittery energy of the live version of “Stop It!” with the militant growled vocals by Vanessa Hey was like nothing I’d ever heard before and even though it was the R.E.M. songs that drew me to the film and soundtrack, it was the Pylon track that ended up being my favorite part of that soundtrack. (Honestly, I always kind of felt like R.E.M. sort of phoned in their contribution with that Everly Brothers cover…)
Pylon reunited and in 1989 released a compilation called Hits which had notable tracks from the two albums as well as some tracks from singles. In 1990 they released another studio album Chain.on Sky Records. They went on tour with R.E.M. and then split up again in 1991. The band reunited for shows sporadically over the years that followed until they finally broke up for good after guitarist Randy Bewley passed away in 2009. Vanessa Briscoe Hay fronts a Pylon tribute band “Pylon Reenactment Society” along with members of other area bands and have even recorded a couple new songs.
In 2007 DFA Records, owned by Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem reissued Chomp and Gyrate on CD with bonus tracks . Titled Gyrate Plus and Chomp More, they went immediately out-of-print and the CD’s are now super-expensive in the secondary market. So, clearly there is demand for this catalog to be reissued again.
For Black Friday Record Store Day in 2019, New West Records sort of tipped their hand in the matter by reissuing Pylon’s debut single “Cool”/”Dub.” I reached out to the label about whether they were going to reissue the albums and at the time they confirmed it, but weren’t going to announce anything for a few months. Then COVID happened which messed up record manufacturing, so I’m guessing that’s why the announcement happened much later for the albums and the box set.
The box set comes in two versions, black vinyl and a limited-to-500 colored vinyl version. Four 140g LP’s include new remasters of Gyrate and Chomp, an LP of Extras which include singles, b-sides and other rarities, and Razz Tape, which is a recording of the band which pre-dates their 1979 debut single recorded in their practice space by Chris Razz. 47 tracks total with 18 of them unreleased.
Since they aren’t also reissuing the 1989 compilation Hits which also included some non-album tracks and there were extra tracks on the DFA releases, how do the tracks compare and what are we missing with the box set?
We’ve seen “Cool,” “Dub,” “Crazy” single mix and the “Danger!!” remix from the !! import EP on Hits and the DFA reissues as I indicate below. We have two completely new songs “Untitled” and “3×3” plus a couple of new mixes of “Danger III” and “Spiders.” Not to mention all of the new versions and tracks on the Chris Razz tape.
Notably missing are some tracks included on the DFA reissues. “Crazy (Original Version)” on the Chomp More reissue seems to also be referred to as the single version. “Yo-Yo (Pylon Mix)” or “Male version” (it has slowed-down versions of the vocals) and “Gyrate (Pylon Mix) are two versions that were recorded during the tracks that were recorded at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In, but the versions that were used on the album came from the sessions at Channel One. We’re also missing the 6-minute version of “Beep” that is called “Four Minutes.”
Interestingly, “Functionality” was listed on the Gyrate Plus reissue as a “Studio Demo.” But the liner notes say it was recorded in 1979 in their practice space in Athens, GA, so that is from the Razz tape.
Here are all the tracks for the boxset and the breakdown of where the Extras have been released before:
Feast On My Heart 03:35
Weather Radio 02:16
The Human Body 03:11
Read A Book 02:02
Driving School 03:53
Working Is No Problem 03:29
Stop It 03:06
Italian Movie Theme 02:01
No Clocks 02:57
Untitled – New track
Cool – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
Dub – from Cool/Dub debut single, also Gyrate Plus and Hits
Recent Title – from Hits
Danger!! (Danger Remix) – from !! EP also Gyrate Plus
Crazy (Single Mix) – from “Crazy” single and Hits and probably Chomp More.
Reptiles (Channel One Version) – New version
No Clocks (Channel One Version) – New version
Spider (Alternative Mix) – New version
3 x 3 (Live) 02:19 – New track
Danger III (Live) – New track
Razz Tape LP – all new tracks except “Functionality”
The Human Body 03:08
Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 1)
Read A Book (Instrumental)
Working Is No Problem
Functionality – from Gyrate Plus
Modern Day Fashion Woman (Version 2)
Feast On My Heart (Working Version)
Pre-order the box set from New West Records HERE or at their Bandcamp site (where you can stream some of the tracks).